How to help your Black child develop resilience in the face of racism and discrimination

July 17, 2020
PHOTO: Getty Images

While we try our best to protect children from things that may hurt them, we must also provide them with tools they need to overcome adversity. The following strategies are helpful ways to teach your Black child to be resilient in the face of racism, through self-love and community.

Representation matters

One of the many ways in which racism and discrimination present is through a lack of representation. It is not uncommon that Black children in the United States spend years in the education system before having a Black teacher or navigate the health care system without ever having a Black doctor. They can spend hours consuming media without seeing a character with a face that shares their complexion or hair of their texture. They are taught that their vernacular makes them sound uneducated and that their opportunities will always be limited. These experiences teach Black children that they are “other,” and do not belong. So, it is important that we are intentional about creating opportunities for Black children to see themselves reflected in the world in which they live. Buy and expose your children to books, toys and media that centers and celebrates Black children and families. Check out books like: “Daddy’s Arms” by Fabian E. Ferguson, “Dark Girl” by Kofi Genfi, “Modern Herstory” by Blair Imani, and Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis. Apps like: We Read Too, can help you find others.

Affirm their Blackness

The use of positive affirmation can help foster a strong self-image, self-esteem and racial identity. This is important, as racism will attempt to show Black children that being Black means that they aren’t (fill in the blank) enough to achieve their dreams or worthy enough to move freely through this world. It is our duty as adults to teach and affirm Black children so that they don’t accept the harmful stereotypes and microaggressions, as truth. Affirm your Black child’s existence through celebrating their hair, complexion, their names, etc. Teach them to speak proudly of themselves and to never downplay or diminish their culture, when pressured by others to do so. Words of affirmation can be included in your morning routine or used as an uplifting exercise to lift your child’s spirts following experiences of racism in school or after seeing triggering images in the media. Check out the following books/poem: “I AM…. Positive Affirmations for Brown Boys” by Ayesha Rodriguez, “My Name is Unique Just Like Me” by Andrew Trotter and Melanie White, and “Hey, Black Child” by Useni Eugene Perkins, for inspiration.

Teach stories of resilience

Teach Black children that they come from a resilient people. A people who have navigated centuries of despicable acts, systems, and policies; all while achieving amazing feats in a myriad of fields, creating fundamental inventions to improve the lives of others, and even developing styles of music and dance consumed all over the world. Exceptional acts aside, it is most important that Black children know that they come from a people who have continued to survive! Teach them so they know that even in the face of racism, they too will survive because they stand on the shoulders of resilient giants. Check out: “I’m Gonna Push Through” by Jasmyn Wright for a resilient mantra.

It takes a village

It is important that Black children have a sense of community and space to be their full and authentic Black selves. Spaces where they are able to have reprieve from being the first, the only one or feeling like and being perceived as the “token.” Be intentional about exposure and engagement in spaces created for Black people, including Black social and community organizations, religious/spiritual communities, historically Black colleges/universities etc. so they have opportunities for fellowship and are able to feel at home even as they venture out into the world.

Your child’s feelings are valid

Like us grown-ups, your Black child won’t always feel strong. Let them know it’s OK to feel sad, angry and frustrated by the racism they experience first-hand or vicariously. Allow them space to vent. Let them know that they might not always feel strong and that is OK. Being honest with themselves and others about their feelings will help them to cope and continue to move forward. This is a lesson they can take with them and apply to other life stressors. Being honest…that is resilience! Because you can’t overcome feelings you don’t face!

There are a number of skills that you will teach your children to help them survive and thrive in this world. Teaching your child to be resilient in the face of racism and discrimination is not only a survival tool, but essential for promoting healthy development. Equip them with the tools they need to cope with racial stress by celebrating all of the reasons to love their Blackness and providing them with a safe space to be vulnerable when they find it hard to carry the load.

Post by:

Sadiqa Cash, PhD

Dr. Cash works as an Assistant Professor in the Section of Psychology within the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). She is also a licensed psychologist working at the Autism Center at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH).

Clinical Interests:

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